We all know stress is really, really bad for us. It can cause unwanted weight loss, it can cause unwanted weight gain, and it can cause various health problems, including cancer, heart disease, and as a result, early death.
Okay, sorry we got morbid there. But there really is good news: stress is curable, and temporary. Plus, there’s never been a better time to feel stress. We’re in the middle of a mindfulness revolution, where stress reduction is front-and-center. But before we talk about stress management techniques, let’s talk about what stress does to your body.
How Stress Makes You Gain Weight
When you experience a stressful event, like lots of traffic, the moments before a big speech, or experiencing changes all at once, your hypothalamus, a region in the brain, fires off. It signals the production of cortisol, sometimes referred to as the stress hormone. Before you hate on cortisol too much, it has a purpose: to get our blood pumping enough to decide to “fight or flight.” It’s the reason we made it so far up the evolutionary food chain! But today, since we’re not usually running from saber-toothed tigers when cortisol starts pumping, it's become more of an annoyance than an evolutionary miracle.
Because of the high level of stress we operate at today, cortisol can become our worst enemy when we start trying to take care of our bodies. New studies have shown that when your brain is firing stress chemicals over the course of 48 hours or more, the extended stress will lead to weight gain—and that’s just from your body’s own fat cell production, not from the binge eating that is commonly associated with stress.
How to Lower Your Cortisol
Luckily, stress isn’t an incurable disease. But it will take some effort to create meaningful changes that will help your body and brain adjust to your lifestyle. Like exercise, you have to take working on your mind seriously. Here are some ways to make your brain tell your body to stop producing cortisol.
If there’s anything we want for you in 2019, it’s for you to get some sleep. Seriously. Implementing a sleep schedule is just as important for your health as exercise. Adults need a solid 7 hours to function at their highest levels, as their brain is using that time to work in overdrive to remove harmful toxins. Your body never works harder than it does while you’re sleeping. Let it do its job and get some shut eye.
Eat For Stress
Dark chocolate alert! Eating for stress can naturally help lower your levels of cortisol. If you know you’re about to have a stressful day or are just coming down from one, pop these foods to help you regulate your system:
Foods high in potassium and magnesium, like bananas and avocados
Nuts like almonds and walnuts
Black or green tea
Foods with vitamin C, like pears
Probiotics, like yogurt
You’ve heard it before, and you’re probably not doing it because 1. It sounds a little “woo woo” and 2. You don’t have the time. But you DO have the time (take 10 minutes before bed! Take a walk at lunch! Listen to a meditation in the car on the way to pick up the kids!) and it’s not a farce. While we don’t exactly know how well mindfulness meditation works, we do know that stress-relieving practices such as yoga do wonders for the brain, and we have tons of anecdotal evidence (just ask that meditation-loving coworker) that mindfulness helps cognition. Plus, even if it’s just an excuse to kick everyone out of the room and be with yourself for 10 minutes, it's definitely worth a try.
What, you thought we weren’t going to mention this? Unlike mindfulness, exercise has been proven time and time again to reduce stress and improve your mood. Aerobic exercises are the best thing that you can for your stressed brain. If you haven’t yet, invest in a gym membership—having a membership will keep exercise top of mind.
Even more of a stress reducer? A personal trainer (and we’re not just saying this!). A personal trainer helps you ease into workouts that are good for your specific body, eliminates the stress of having to come up with your own workout plan, helps hold you accountable, and supports you on your health journey.
Interested in trying out a personal training session? How about one that's free?